Can I Be A Christian Without Church?

Have you ever stopped to think about the makeup of your average church? I mean think about it—the church is made up of a bunch of people who under normal circumstances probably would not hang out. Different backgrounds, interests, places in life. In fact, the church is made up of a bunch of people who probably wouldn’t even like each other if we met in a different social setting. But we make it work. Because these aren’t normal circumstances. We are unified by something so much bigger than ourselves. The King of the Universe has brought us together to perform a monumental task. And unless we can overcome our pettiness, our selfishness, our pride, and be unified, we will not succeed. We will not be strong enough to make a difference.

It’s trendy these days to be spiritual but not religious. To be a Christian and not go to church. To say that my faith is a personal mater. To attack church itself. But in pursuing those dangerous trends, we miss out on God’s purpose for our lives. The unity we are to have with other believers. Although I understand that sometimes the negative view of church comes from a place of hurt.


But If I could convince the people who claim to follow Jesus in our church and in this community anything,

I would convince them that the local church matters. The local church is important. The local church is the vessel through which Jesus has chosen to continue transforming the world with. I’ve yet to see any revival anywhere happen outside of a community of faithful believers. And yet, the local church is so often neglected by the very people who claim to love Jesus. And in the process of neglecting the local church, our personal ministries that we are called to wanes. Our influence wanes. And God’s kingdom doesn’t manifest itself here as it is in heaven. All because we neglect the bride of Jesus whom Jesus loves. This bride imagery is given in multiple places in the New Testament. Can you imagine being part of someone's life in a meaningful manner if you hate their spouse? Because to take the local church seriously in today’s age and have a commitment to Jesus through being part of His body, you not only have to have the gumption to go against the grain of secular society, you have to be strong and go against this prevailing trend among many Christians.

I'm currently reading through a book called the Word and Power Church. It's about how great churches can be if they are focused on the word of God and experiencing the power of God. But there is one underlying given that I think is often ignored despite even being in the title. It's a church. It's a group of people experiencing fellowship with one another, living life together, sharing a mission together, and serving together. They study the word together and experience God's power together. These things were designed to be experienced while doing church together.

There are so many different imageries given in the New Testament for the church – the bride as I mentioned earlier, a priesthood, his people, but today, we are going to focus on one that I hope will convince everyone here that church is important. And if you are already convinced, it will hopefully give you a better understanding for when you encounter that person who says, “I don’t need church to follow God.” Because you will.


Paul wrote:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,  so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8 (ESV)
Paul is describing how the church should work. He is talking about a strength that comes from being united despite everyone being skilled and gifted at different things. But in order for there to be unity, a few things have to be in place. First he mentions humility. It should be easy to be humble when we properly view ourselves through a lens of being a saved sinner. As redeemed children of God who have been blessed in so many ways. And Paul returns to those thoughts here. He says, "Don't think more highly of yourself than you should."

But we often lack humility. For many, they think they can do it on their own. For others, they want to use church to control others. But neither is a proper course of action. We need to view ourselves in the proper light to have a right relationship with others and with God.

In order for us to get the strength that comes from being unified, humility is required. The Christian life, the church, and our faith are not about us. They are about God—his plan, his kingdom, his glory. Yes, we have a part to play. We each have something to contribute. We will in fact be better at something than someone else. But we have to work together. If you think you're better because others don't have the same gifts that  you have – whether that is serving in some capacity, some manifestation of some spiritual gift, or some other ability, then you are going to miss out on working together and we’re all going to miss out on receiving the blessings of all our gifts working together. Because of this arrogance, people become Lone Ranger Christians and leave church. Church unity is tough for a person who thinks their giftedness is the giftedness that matters while everyone else is less faithful or useful than them because they don’t have the gift that the arrogant one has and values. And having a healthy church is impossible if we try to shoehorn everyone into having the same gifts and expression of the faith.


What I see, sadly, in the church today is that churches seem to be fragmented less on doctrine and more upon the lines of giftedness because the more charismatic feel the less charismatic are dead spiritually and those less charismatic think the more charismatic are crazy. Those interested in social justice think that the intellectually minded have a stale faith while those who are into study think the social justice people are ungrounded. On and on, people surround themselves with people of like passions and giftedness resulting in a lot of unhealthy churches. The church has an arrogance problem. And everyone just goes off and does church in a church, if they even do church, that has the same passion for their giftedness, but, in the process, the churches are all just hopping around on one leg rather than being the body of Christ -- living, being, and working together to be God’s kingdom. There is no unity. There isn’t something better coming about from everyone doing different things working toward a shared vision. This isn’t happening in most churches.

Paul kind of gives us a check that we can use to inspect ourselves to examine whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (ESV)
The test is whether you are using the gifts and passions you have for the common good of the Body of Christ. The manifestations of the Spirit are given to be shared – for the common good. It’s not about me just growing spiritually. It’s not about me having more spiritual knowledge or spiritual power.

It’s not about me enjoying an encounter with God at an awesome service or retreat and continually pursuing another while measuring church by whether I had another high this week or not. Not every week will have the Spirit move like it did two weeks ago when so many of you publicly confessed your struggles. It’s not about me at all. It’s not about you at all. We’re just a vessel that the manifestations of the Spirit flow through for the common good. So whatever gift you have, use it for the common good.


And people will be saved without church. I assume that is true because we serve a gracious God, but asking if we can be saved without being part of a church is asking the wrong question. Being a Christian isn’t about the minimum that I must do to be saved. It’s about total surrender to King Jesus. About living out His will totally. About His kingdom and His ways. We don’t ask what is the minimum to be saved. We ask what do I get to do because I am saved. And being part of the church and serving the common good are some of those things.
Pediatrician David Cerqueira shares a story of how a little girl showed his church the honor of serving God. David shares: One Sunday my wife had prepared a lesson on being useful. She taught the children that everyone can be useful—that usefulness is serving God, and that doing so is worthy of honor. The kids quietly soaked up my wife's words, and as the lesson ended, there was a short moment of silence. [A little girl named] Sarah spoke up. "Teacher, what can I do? I don't know how do to many useful things."

Not anticipating that kind of response, my wife quickly looked around and spotted an empty flower vase on the windowsill. "Sarah, you can bring in a flower and put it in the vase. That would be a useful thing."

Sarah frowned. "But that's not important."

"It is," replied my wife, "if you are helping someone."

Sure enough, the next Sunday Sarah brought in a dandelion and placed it in the vase. In fact, she continued to do so each week. Without reminders or help, she made sure the vase was filled with a bright yellow flower, Sunday after Sunday. When my wife told our pastor about Sarah's faithfulness, he placed the vase upstairs in the main sanctuary next to the pulpit. That Sunday he gave a sermon on the honor of serving others, using Sarah's vase as an example. The congregation was touched by the message, and the week started on a good note.

During that same week I (that’s David the pediatrician) got a call from Sarah's mother. She worried that Sarah seemed to have less energy than usual and that she didn't have an appetite. Offering her some reassurances, I made room in my schedule to see Sarah the following day. After Sarah had a battery of tests and days of examinations, I sat numbly in my office, Sarah's paperwork on my lap. The results were tragic.

On the way home, I stopped to see Sarah's parents so that I could personally give them the sad news. Sarah's genetics and the leukemia that was attacking her small body were a horrible mix. Sitting at their kitchen table, I did my best to explain to Sarah's parents that nothing could be done to save her life. I don't think I have ever had a more difficult conversation than the one that night. …

Time pressed on. Sarah became confined to bed and to the visits that many people gave her. She lost her smile. She lost most of her weight. And then it came: another telephone call. Sarah's mother asked me to come see her. I dropped everything and ran to the house. There she was, a small bundle that barely moved. After a short examination, I knew that Sarah would soon be leaving this world. I urged her parents to spend as much time as possible with her.

That was a Friday afternoon. On Sunday morning church started as usual. The singing, the sermon—it all seemed meaningless when I thought of Sarah. I felt enveloped in sadness. At the end of the sermon, the pastor suddenly stopped speaking. His eyes wide, he stared at the back of the church with utter amazement. Everyone turned to see what he was looking at. It was Sarah! Her parents had brought her for one last visit. She was bundled in a blanket, a dandelion in one little hand.

She didn't sit in the back row. Instead she slowly walked to the front of the church where her vase still perched by the pulpit. She put her flower in the vase and a piece of paper beside it. Then she returned to her parents. Seeing little Sarah place her flower in the vase for the last time moved everyone. At the end of the service, people gathered around Sarah and her parents, trying to offer as much love and support as possible. I could hardly bear to watch.

Four days later, Sarah died. I cancelled my morning appointments and sat at my desk, thinking about her and her parents, hurting. I remember the funny stories that my wife told about Sarah. I remembered the sweet sound of her laughter. I remembered that telephone call that brought the sadness.

Tears filled my eyes as once again I struggled not to question the goodness of God in allowing Sarah’s life to end in such a horrible way.

I wasn’t expecting it, but our pastor asked to see me after the funeral. We stood at the cemetery near our cars as people walked past us. In a low voice he said, “Dave, I’ve got something you ought to see.” He pulled out of his pocket the piece of paper that Sarah had left by the vase. Holding it out to me, he said, “You’d better keep this; it may help you in your line of work.”

I opened the folded paper to read, in pink crayon, what Sarah had written:

Dear God,

This vase has been the biggest honor of my life.


Sarah’s note and her vase have helped me to understand. I now realize in a new way that life is an opportunity to serve God by serving people. And, as Sarah put it, that is the biggest honor of all.    (source: (source: David Cerqueira, "Sarah's Vase," Today's Christian, March/April 2008, adapted from Evangel magazine, December 2005. From a sermon by C. Philip Green, We Want To See Jesus, 4/14/2011))


We can’t encourage one another, serve each other, and serve together if we aren’t meeting together. We are called to be the church. The light of the world. The city on the hill. To serve one another for the common good. Paul illustrates the concept of the body which should combat the idea of Lone Ranger Christianity; it should combat the idea that the local church is useless. He used the metaphor of the body to illustrate God’s intention. He says that we, the church, are one body. And just as the body has many different and unique parts, a church has different members who contribute different things. We have different gifts, talents, abilities and passions—which are gifts of grace, given to us from God. But here's what we often fail to grasp—we extol individuality while failing to see that these individual blessings are supposed to work with one another. To be put together to form the body, so that people see the body without noticing the individual parts.

We aren’t called to be the same. We’re called to be united in mission through our diversity. We’re called to be the church.

Each one must be put into the body and work with other organs to function. And according to Paul, these organs represent each of us. We are different. We all bring different things to the church. We all function differently. But the thing that unites us, is the church – God’s kingdom and His mission. What is best for us, for our talents and abilities, for the church, and for the world is coming together in our strengths so we can become the best body possible.

Because it would be stupid for the liver, the brain, the heart, and the lung to argue about which one is most important to the body. They should work together.
The church is called to be a body on a mission. We’re called to be an example of the kingdom of God. Think about that. The purpose of the church, of the body of Christ, is to be an example of God’s perfect plan for humanity.

Our mission is so big that it requires all the parts working together. The body needs the individual parts. And if we let pride get in the way, or we choose not to do our part, then our mission will continue to be a failure. Evil will continue to win. The brokenness of the world will spread like a virus and overtake our lives.

Paul instructs us on how to live saved lives.. If you can contribute something, then by all means do! If you can prophesy (which actually means proclaiming truth rather than telling the future) then do it with the faith that God will use it. If you serve, teach, encourage, give, lead, show mercy or anything else, then do it! This section of Scripture is sponsored by Nike—Just do it! Don't worry about accolades, about failure, about anything except making the body function at 100%. Otherwise, it's just a waste. Do your part. We need each other. We can't do this without each other. Don't expect others to do the same things you're gifted at and don't neglect to just do it. Don’t look down on others for not sharing the same passion that you have. You have been given that passion to bring about service to others in the church and have it overflow into the world. For this whole church thing to work, we have to be united in effort—all doing our part, filling our role to make it work.

Imagine a church where you and you and you – all of us together – were investing in making church great. Then we would see the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. I am certain that is what each one of us is called toward.